Gor Mahia XI: Oluoch; Nzigiyimana, Shakava, Mohammed, Sibomana; Walusimbi, Aucho, Okoth, Abondo; Olunga, Kagere.
Tusker XI: Musalia; Atudo, Situma, Mososti, Wahome; Monday, Kimani, Mieno, Osumba, Onyango; Were.
Gor Mahia maintained their supreme 4-4-2 line-up that had dropped only 6 points in 14 games prior to this fixture. Their opponents, Tusker, have come under fire on their ideology based game thus concomitantly chopped and changed coming into this match. Kimanzi characteristically packed the midfield but decided to feature no width; playing no full back or out and out winger.
Both sides started the game with a lot of energy; pressing intensely in midfield to deny opportunities for build-up. It was almost chaotic with the only chance for transition coming from wide areas. This favored Gor Mahia as they are a very direct side and largely depend on superiority on the flanks to create chances; be it by their wingers, drifting strikers or marauding fullbacks.
They did create chances, with their wingers tucking in against Tusker’s narrow formation their fullback had the carte blanche to move up-field and bring crosses. This is where much of the chances were created from and Gor Mahia, surprisingly, managed to gain the upper hand on Tusker’s four center-back defense; particularly Michael Olunga. Tusker attempted to deal with him through man-marking but it was all in vain. Olunga is good at finding space between the vertical lines and coupled with his hold-up ability and selflessness; man-marking only ruins compaction in defense.
Kimanzi has transformed his side to a more cautious approach in recent matches in the wake of a poor run of home but I never expected he would sit back against Gor Mahia; even if only as a form of psychological saber rattling. His side was narrow and tried to be compact but they were always in trouble as they transitioned. Unlike Gor Mahia, who had their forward players move wide in transition, Tusker looked to swiftly get in between K’ogallo’s defensive and midfield lines and play through balls to an increasingly isolated Jesse Were. They did manage to achieve this occasionally, off the feat of Kevin Kimani, but most of the time this tactic witnessed them losing balls to Gor Mahia’s counter-transitions in a very tight midfield.
The first half had been an impressive high energy encounter so one could be forgiven to expect a lull, or a bit of it, in the second half. This does not count for Gor Mahia. They are an incredibly hardworking side, arguably the hardest working in the entire division. Key to their success in the first half of the season has been the amount of intensity applied and the levels of fitness maintained by the team. Moreover, it’s astounding that they managed to get a fullback, make that two, with the prowess Walusimbi had there. Nzigiyimana and Sibomana keep running on that 90 meter touchline whether to move balls forward or regroup into defense. This has been complemented by an equally hardworking midfield as Gor Mahia always seek to press aggressively in a middle block and prevent their 4-4-2 from being exposed to inferior numbers in the middle. Teams taking the game to Gor Mahia simply find it impossible.
Tusker, a high pressing team as well, just couldn’t keep up with Gor Mahia; a concern for the brewer’s technical bench. They therefore resorted to protecting their point against Gor Mahia’s pummeling from crosses. That Gor Mahia have dominated the league, majorly through crossing, is a bad advertisement for the league’s lateral defending. Traditionally, crosses are easier to deal with by defenders as they task in maintaining compaction is straight forward. Even Tusker with four centre backs could not deal with this, mightily, thanks to Gor Mahia’s strikers’ movement to wide areas which disorient defenders massively. This lays some truth to Eymael’s diagnosis that “Kenyan players are not used to thinking tactically.” Kagere met Nzigiyimana’s cross to give Gor Mahia, what has been this season, an unassailable lead.
Kimanzi consequently made two panic changes and reverted to his usual 3-5-2 offensive minded basis but it was all too late. In retrospect, that would have been more catastrophic in dealing with Gor Mahia’s wing combinations but that is neither here nor there. Tusker are all but out of the title picture while Nuttal’s charges finish off a cruising first leg of the league, 12-3-0; bring on CECAFA.